While the Indian automotive industry has become much more aggressive and competitive than ever before, there was a time in the era of the 1990s when new car launches were slow. However, most of the cars launched in this era turned out to be modern icons, with many of their owners still running them smoothly and in fine condition today. Below are the prominent car launches from the 1990s that paved the path for modern engineering prowess and today’s more modern products:
Mahindra Armada (1991)
The Armada was a significant step up for Mahindra in the early 1990s. It marked Mahindra’s transition from making bare-bones, extremely functional people movers based on primitive Jeep models to more proper people movers with relatively plusher and comfortable cabins. It retained the ruggedness and durability associated with Mahindra vehicles from that era.
Maruti Suzuki Zen (1993)
The Maruti Suzuki Zen quickly became the choice of driving enthusiasts who wanted a zingy and premium alternative to the utilitarian Maruti 800. Its compact dimensions and peppy 1.0-litre engine made it popular among those who enjoyed being behind the wheel. The Zen developed a cult following over the years.
Maruti Suzuki Esteem (1994)
Maruti Suzuki launched the 1000 as its first-ever sedan, which gained popularity among those looking for an affordable yet premium sedan. Maruti Suzuki later updated it with a larger, more powerful engine and rebranded it as the Esteem. It arrived as the flagship offering from Maruti Suzuki with features like power steering and power windows, considered premium at the time.
Daewoo Cielo (1995)
Daewoo entered the Indian car market with the Cielo, marketed as a premium sedan for the masses. The Cielo featured a sleek design and modern interior ahead of its time. While it found buyers initially, low fuel efficiency and expensive spares eventually deterred potential buyers.
Ford Escort (1996)
Ford launched the Escort, a similarly priced and powerful five-door sedan, after witnessing the popularity of models like the Maruti Suzuki Esteem and Daewoo Cielo. The Ford Escort was the first mass-market car in India to offer premium European engineering to upper-middle-class buyers.
Opel Astra (1996)
The Opel Astra, another European car, arrived in India around the same time as the Ford Escort. Opel, then part of General Motors, marked General Motors’ official entry into the Indian car market. The Opel Astra came with desirable features like an integrated music system and sunroof, making it highly desirable among Indian car buyers.
Fiat Uno (1996)
Fiat aimed for success in the Indian car market with the Uno, which garnered massive bookings even before its launch. Compared to other hatchbacks of its time, the Fiat Uno offered sturdier build quality, more powerful engine options, and finer driving dynamics. However, labour unrest resulted in significant delays in its launch, affecting its success.
Mahindra MM540 (1996)
Mahindra introduced an updated version of the previous-generation CJ series of people movers, named the MM540 (or Mahindra Major), in the mid-1990s. It featured a more functional design with proper door panels and a rugged chassis, making it durable for both on-road and off-road driving.
Mahindra Classic (1996)
Before the Thar, there was the Mahindra Classic, the brand’s first lifestyle off-roader. With a design inspired by the Jeep Wrangler, the Classic featured a two-door design and robust mechanicals derived from the Mahindra MM540.
Peugeot 309 (1997)
Peugeot had a brief presence in the Indian car market with the 309 sedan being its only offering. It was a capable sedan with an angular design, a thoughtfully designed cabin, and potent engine options. Despite its strengths, it didn’t gain the acceptance it deserved.
Honda Accord (1997)
Honda entered the Indian car market with the premium Accord sedan. With larger dimensions, rich build quality, a spacious interior, and a powerful and refined engine, the Honda Accord positioned Honda as a premium and desirable brand in India. However, being an imported car made it more expensive.
Daewoo Matiz (1997)
Daewoo launched the Matiz, its first and only hatchback in India, to attract more buyers. Compared to smaller, more functional hatchbacks, the Matiz offered a fancier design and a spacious cabin. It remained in the market until Daewoo ceased operations in India.
Mitsubishi Lancer (1998)
Mitsubishi entered the Indian sedan market with the Lancer, featuring sleek design, high-revving engines, and a well-tuned chassis. It gained popularity among driving enthusiasts but faced competition from newer rivals.
Honda City (1998)
Honda launched the City sedan to compete in the compact sedan segment. It arrived with a sleek design, a blend of performance and efficiency with the i-VTEC petrol engine, and was manufactured in India.
Tata Safari (1998)
The original Tata Safari was the first-ever seven-seater SUV from Tata Motors, offering a commanding driving position, a spacious cabin, and powerful petrol and diesel engine options. It was eventually replaced with a monocoque-framed Safari.
Hyundai Santro (1998)
Hyundai entered India with the Santro, India’s first tallboy hatchback, offering exceptional headroom and legroom. It received updates over the years but couldn’t recreate the success of the first-generation version.
Tata Indica (1998)
Tata Motors launched its first indigenously developed passenger car, the Indica hatchback, intending to offer a practical small car. The Indica received praise for its frugal diesel engine and spacious cabin, although it initially faced quality issues.
Hyundai Accent (1999)
Following the success of the Santro, Hyundai introduced the Accent sedan as an affordable yet desirable alternative in the compact sedan segment. It offered a spacious and comfortable cabin, decent engine options, and ease of maintenance.
Ford Ikon (1999)
The Ford Ikon replaced the Ford Escort and became a significant move for Ford in India. Heavily re-engineered for the Indian market, the Ikon offered a well-engineered car with good engines, making it a favourite among car buyers.